Sermon for the 18th Sunday after Pentecost

Jeremiah 11:18-20
Psalm 54
James 3:13–4:3, 7-8a
Mark 9:30-37

“Whoever welcomes one such a child in my name welcomes me.” To me this was always one of the least difficult and intimidating command of sorts from Jesus. I mean, how hard it is it to welcome kids? They can be so cute, so fun, and they at times say the darnedest things. So yeah, I can welcome the kids, no problem.

Then… I had my own kids. And yeah, they are still cute, fun, and say the darnedest things… but they are also loud, messy, and a real handful. There is no rest as a parent, no break, no real chance to even catch our breaths. At least it doesn’t seem like it for these first 9 years that my wife and I have been parents.

So now? It seems a bit harder to welcome the kids. It’s a bit harder to always have our doors open, our ears attentive, our hearts patient. Oh the patience. Suddenly, it’s a bit harder to swallow what Jesus is saying here today. Suddenly, I can kind of understand what this is a challenge. Suddenly, I find myself not really wanting to be all that welcoming.

Don’t get me wrong, I still love my kids of course, and kids in general… not in a creepy way. But for my own kids, I would still do everything I can to ensure the proper upbringing and preparation for the world. I would still give up basically all my free time to be with them and step way out of my comfort zone to help them. But that isn’t to say that I wouldn’t enjoy some time apart here and there. Like maybe a couple weeks or months, no more than a year though. And I most certainly wouldn’t mind it if they were more mature, more disciplined, more logical, more like me.

Or maybe not me specifically, but more like an adult.

Because that is our problem with people younger than us, isn’t it? That they aren’t as seasoned as we are, not as experienced, not as privy to the knowledge and ways of the world so they aren’t as prepared or protected against its dangers. And you and I know, the world is a dangerous place. So we shake our heads and wag our fingers and tell those young whippersnappers to stay off our lawn and we think, if only they were older and more mature and more disciplined and basically more like us, then they’d be ok.

I have a feeling that this was the strong mentality of the time of our gospel lesson today. Or even all of the bible times. Kids were seen but not heard, and barely even that. In that time of history, kids weren’t seen as super important, not like they are now. Kids weren’t seen as integral parts of the family, or even the most important members of the family as some see them today. Back in those days, children just weren’t seen as the future, so no one bothered to teach them well and let them lead the way, or to show them all the beauty they possess inside… or give them a sense of… well you get my drift.

But classic and iconic Witney Houston lyrics aside, are we honestly any better? Sure, we might bend over backwards for our kids now, jump through hoops to get them in the right school, or spend way more than we can afford both in dollars and minutes to give them everything that they want, but I wonder if we have a mentality thinking that we are better than those darned kids, just because we’re older and more mature and so forth.

And yeah, there is that generation gap too, making it hard for us to understand each other. The world was different when we were growing up and kids these days don’t know the difficulty and pain of the depression, or the wars, or immigration, or dial up internet. So suddenly when we think about what Jesus is saying about welcoming the kids, maybe it is a bit of a hurdle for us to manage. Because really, welcoming isn’t just co-existing, but it is accepting, caring for, and regarding as an equal.

I think we can accept and care for kids, no problem, but regarding as an equal? Errr…

I’m not saying that we should be letting kids drive at a young age or make them get a job, but I’m talking about respect for those younger than us or just even different from us, and seeing the value that they have as well. I mean, are we really that much better than others, not just kids, that we don’t have to welcome them, respect them, or regard them as an equal?

I know, we really really want to say no but I think deep down, at least for me, we really think “uh, yeah of course we’re better.” We are ourselves, so of course we agree with what we think and what we believe. Otherwise, we wouldn’t really think or believe it. So then it becomes natural for us to disagree with those who think or believe differently than we do.

But, and I believe this is the point that Jesus is trying to make, does that make them or us wrong? Does that mean we ought to bicker and fight to prove that we actually know what we’re talking about? Does that mean that our differences are worth the conflict because we for some strange reason all have to be on the same page about every little thing that happens in life?

Because at the very heart of conflict, at the center of every fight, the reason really we ever disagree at any time is because we somehow think we are better than they with whom we have conflict. We want to prove our better point, we want the other to realise our better way of life, we want to proclaim our better truth. I mean, isn’t this exactly what the disciples were bickering about that brought on this whole lesson? Arguing who among them was the greatest?

Jesus just gave his second passion prediction, and these guys are comparing biceps. Jesus was opening up his heart and revealing to them his mission, and they were wondering how in the name of glory do they fit into this plan. Jesus was displaying to them true humility and the heart of a servant and they couldn’t even see past their own egos. Maybe they aren’t so much better after all.

In the past few months, I’ve been trying to deal with a bunch of stuff that has been going on with me emotionally. As you all know it’s been just over a year since my dad died and I guess I never really processed the whole thing. But as I walk through those emotions and underlying issues that I have, I’ve been noticing that everything that my kids do that annoy the heck out of me… are learned habits. Every time they have an outburst, or are unreasonable, or even just don’t listen to me when I’m talking, I’ve realised that they got it from somewhere… must have been my wife.

Just kidding, I have started to see so much of not just my shortcomings in my kids, but also their shortcomings in me. My hypocritical self just didn’t allow me to see how very much alike we are not in knowledge and stature, but in emotional neediness and desire for community in which we are heard and loved.

That then leads me to believe that when Jesus picked up that actual kid that came out of nowhere and said whoever welcomes a kid such as this? I think he was talking about kids such as his disciples, kids such as all people, kids such as us here in this room.

Yeah I said it. We all share the same shortcomings and strengths. We all share the same annoying habits and helpful ones. We all share the same need for forgiveness and the same God that provides that forgiveness.

See while we are different in age, size, and financial status, our need to belong, to heal, and to be loved are the same. Our need for relationship, restoration, and community are the same. Our need to be identified as a person worthy of all those things is the same. And at the same time, our ability to foster relationship, to lend a helping hand, and to welcome in love is the same.

So we aren’t all that different. Unique, of course, but overall not that different. As Jesus extends welcome to all of us, we are humbled and hopefully see that as we are so unworthy of that welcome, we can in turn go out and welcome others who we might deem as unworthy as well. That while we might think we’re better than others, God regards us all the same, equally valued, equally redeemed, equally welcomed and loved and brought into God’s kingdom.

I get that sometimes it is hard to see past our differences with each other. I get that sometimes they can be so blaring that it is really all we can focus on. I especially get that we often can fall into the trap of thinking who among us is the greatest and very easily just point to ourselves. But when we focus on the similarities we share, when we remember how we are all so connected as the body of Christ, when we see just how sinful but forgiven we are by the same grace of God that leads us to the same baptism and same communion, we then see how God can love each and every one of us, how God can call us all God’s own children, how God can welcome us into God’s eternal kingdom of love, community, and service.

Yeah, sometimes welcoming others can be hard, especially those who we think are so different from ourselves. But let’s remember that welcoming us can be equally hard but God strengthens us and leads us into that welcome and relationship for the sake of community. And as conflicts will inevitably arise in those relationships and community, let’s remember that we are all equally human and imperfect and annoying, and how we all equally are in need of redemption and a saviour.

As we are definitely now in the fall season of this ordinary time, may we look ahead to what God has in store for us and our community as we open our arms to see how we aren’t better or worse, but equal and able to welcome the stranger. Thanks be to God. Amen.

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